Broncos hope to sprint out of the gate quickly

Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman (37) runs for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins Aug 24.Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos will not ease into the season -- at least not when it comes to the pressure on the team.

They don't face a team that took part in last year's postseason until Week 4, and that club, the Kansas City Chiefs, is breaking in a new starting quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. While the opening five games are manageable, their midseason stretch looks daunting, starting with a home game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6.

So for the Broncos to ensure they do not have their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72, they need to break out to a fast start.

It starts with quarterback Case Keenum, of course, who was signed to a two-year, $36 million contract to give the Broncos the stability at the position that they had lacked since Peyton Manning's March 2016 retirement.

But if Vance Joseph's Broncos are to ensure that their 5-11 campaign of last year was an aberration, their young newcomers must produce as hoped.

Three rookies are listed on the first team -- running back Royce Freeman, outside linebacker Bradley Chubb and kickoff returner Phillip Lindsay, who will also be a rotational running back with Freeman and Devontae Booker. Rookie wide receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton will play extensively in three-wide receiver sets while sometimes spelling Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. First-year tight end Jake Butt, whose rookie season was scuttled because of a torn ACL suffered at Michigan, should see plenty of red-zone opportunities from Week 1 onward.

Denver has plenty of veterans left from its Super Bowl 50 run, but after a desultory 2017, it is the energy and talent of a mature-beyond-its-years rookie class that provides the best opportunity for this season to result in a turnaround.

Freeman, in particular, could be a focal point. He beat Booker for the No. 1 running back spot, earning his promotion to the first team Monday after leading the Broncos with three preseason touchdowns.

He described the first-team status as "an honor." But befitting a rookie class that mixes production with diligence and humility, he made clear that being the No. 1 running back means nothing more than an opportunity that he must seize.

"You can't get too ahead of yourself thinking about things like that," he said. "Everybody is here at the NFL -- the highest level -- and you have to tell yourself that you belong. You have to go out there and you have to prove it every day."

There is every reason for the Broncos to be humble. A 5-11 finish that included an eight-game losing streak leaves them scant material about which to boast. But that also leaves them feeling the heat as the regular season dawns.

No Broncos fan below the age of 50 has vivid memories of back-to-back-losing seasons. And if the team doesn't start fast and show last year was just a blip in a decades-long run of relevance, those fans might not handle it well.

SERIES HISTORY: 54th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 34-19. Seahawks have won three of the last four, including postseason. Most historic meeting between these two teams was in Super Bowl XLVIII, when the Seahawks throttled the Broncos, 43-8.